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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

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might just as well go out of existence, and good riddance, too. There
was, therefore, the continual struggle between the Buddhist goal to
freach a spiritual void and arrive at a non-personal spiritual existence,
free from all personal attachments, and a more realistic Confucian
sense of duty towards one's fellow men. The question of salvation is,
after all, only the achievement of spiritual harmony in which the baser
instincts of man can be brought under control of his higher nature.
If one could attain such a spiritual harmony through intelligent self-
discipline, one did not have to leave human society entirely in order
to achieve salvation.

For instance, there is the question of the fight against evil or evils
in human society. The neo-Confucianist Chu Shi criticised Su
Tungpo's two poems written on his coming out of prison as showing
no intention to check himself and start a new life. Those two poems,
as we have seen, seemed to show that it was the same old Su Tungpo
writing. The question is, did he intend to reform or not? Did he mean
to keep his mouth shut and stop criticising things that were wrong in
the country? To his less intimate friends he gave one answer; to his
best friends he gave another.

There are two interesting letters that he wrote to friends to whom
he revealed his innermost convictions. One was to his close friend Li
Chang. The latter had written poems to comfort him in his misfor-
tune, but their tone was too sentimental for Su Tungpo, who wrote the
following reply: "Why are you like this? I had expected you to be
brave in trouble. It is true that we are growing old and are in disv
tress, but down in our bones we are conscious of having done the right
thing, and with all the philosophy that we have learned, we should
be able to take life and death with a laugh. If you are pitying me be-
cause I have been overtaken by misfortune, then we are in no way
different from the uneducated. . . . We are in present difficulties. But,
if an occasion comes up again when we can do something to benefit
the people and show our loyalty to the ruler, we shall do it regardless
of all consequences for ourselves and leave the rest to the Creator's
will. I wouldn't say this to anybody except yourself. Please burn this
letter after reading it. Other people may misunderstand."

To Wang Kung, who got the worst of the deal in the prosecution
of Su's case, and who was now exiled to the remote south-west, Su
Tungpo wrote several letters. He first expressed his sorrow for causing
him all this ^trouble, but then said that on receiving Wang Kung's
letter, he saw that Wang was able to enjoy the consolation of
philosophy. "Now I really know your truly amiable character and
entertain the hope that in my old age when we meet again, I may still
be counted among your friends. . . ." He went on to speak of the
Taoist art of prolonging life, to which he was applying himself.